If there’s a saving grace for the Cavs in these Finals, it may be that Golden State is a different team on the road. To be clear, the Warriors are still very, very good on the road, but their style is different. On their home court, the fast-breaking Warriors play like they just entered the cheat codes in a video game, relentlessly piling up points before defenses can blink. But away from Oakland, they aren’t quite as ridiculous in transition — and that gives Cleveland a sliver of hope as the series shifts to Ohio for Game 3 on Wednesday.
Golden State posted 27 fast-break points in Game 1 and finished with 311 in Game 2, both of which were in Oakland. But there appears to be a home-cooking element involved when the Dubs are at Oracle Arena — the club scored 25.3 points per 100 possessions there this season in fast-break scenarios, compared with 18.8 on the road. That nearly 7-point boost at home, the biggest in the NBA, is insane considering that the Warriors already possess the league’s most efficient road offense and are the highest-scoring transition team away from home. (This is in line with what they did last season, too: The Warriors scored six more fast-break points per 100 possessions at home in 2015-16.)
After watching the first two games of this series, which, not coincidentally, have been the two fastest-paced playoff games of LeBron James’s career, you might think the Warriors crank up the tempo at home. But, oddly, pace doesn’t seem to be the driving force behind the Warrior’s home-road fast-break splits. The numbers actually show that Golden State plays at a slightly slower pace at home than it does on the road. The Warriors also collected fewer steals per game at Oracle than in other arenas.
So how has Golden State managed to produce so much more scoring in transition at home despite utilizing a slower tempo and forcing fewer miscues?
I asked Warriors point guard Shaun Livingston, and he said the additional fast-break scoring stemmed from the fans. “It’s our crowd,” he said. “We feed off the energy, and it gets everybody going and motivates us to go out there and get stops.” (This is very hard to quantify, but the deafening crowd noise at Oracle has been a point of contention.)
A couple of other things stand out.
First, when teams traveled to Oracle this season, they seemed to make a concerted effort to take away the Warriors’ long-range transition looks, perhaps to prevent an avalanche of triples that would invigorate the crowd. (During the regular season, Golden State’s transition opportunities ended with a 3-point attempt 31 percent of the time at home, compared with 36 percent of the time on the road, according to data provided by STATS SportVu at FiveThirtyEight’s request.) As such, fast-break defenses that were already on their heels were leaving open lanes that led to easy, efficient looks from the paint. We saw something similar in Game 1 when the Cavs left Kevin Durant all alone on fast breaks, wary of Steph Curry getting an open 3-point shot from the corner.
Second, it’s noteworthy that even though the Warriors got fewer steals at home, they managed to block an NBA-high 7.7 shots per game at Oracle, about two more rejections per contest than they logged on the road. And as we saw a couple of times in Game 2, Golden State loves to race down the court when it secures the ball after recording a block.
So the Cavs may not need to light up the scoreboard with their transition offense to find success. Stopping Golden State from having a fast-break field day would be a good start. And based on what we saw from the Warriors all season, getting them on the road may help Cleveland in that department.
By Chris Herring